London's Westminster City Council has begun a £400,000 nine-month trial of 30 i-plus interactive kiosks deployed throughout the capital's West End shopping and tourist sectors.
Targeted at both tourists and local residents, the kiosks offer free email services plus nine information channels such as jobs, transport, sight-seeing, local entertainment and national news from broadcaster ITN.
They also allow residents to send messages to council departments, to complain about street rubbish, for instance. However, they do not offer general web browsing facilities.
Councillor Ian Wilder told vnunet.com: "These kiosks are like an interactive Evening Standard for Westminster residents, only combined with the Council services directory."
He hoped that speech and video capabilities would soon be added to the kiosks, which have broadband (typically ISDN) connections.
Each i-plus unit, built by Cityspace, costs around £10,000 to deploy and annual running costs for each kiosk are an additional £4000 to £5000. Contracts are often structured to allow councils to offset part of the cost through online and offline advertising deals.
Robert Davis, chairman of the Council's customer services committee, refused to comment on what usage levels would represent a successful trial, saying only that he hoped they would be used heavily. He added that the trial results would be reviewed in April 2002.
Marc Meyohas, managing director at Cityspace, said that previously launched kiosks averaged 50 user sessions and 23 emails a day in June.
He added that each unit links back to Cityspace's data centre via VPN technology to protect them from potential hackers. "I don't want to tempt fate, but none of our kiosks have ever been hacked," he told vnunet.com.
Each unit uses Cityspace's own Pavement operating system which sits on top of a Windows 2000/Internet Explorer 5 set-up.
Davis denied that the kiosks would become targets for physical as well as cyber vandals, saying that they were as "indestructible as they can be".
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